Holidaying in Hong Kong (I)

Here we are again - I'm in Hong Kong on holiday. I arrived late Saturday afternoon, went straight to a friend's apartment, got showered and changed, and then flew out the door straight to dinner. From there we went to the usual haunts: Carnegie's, The White Stag - and then back to my other mate's flat where I'm crashing for the week.

The first thing I did Sunday? High tea with friends (lots of them!) and then the new 'Wonder Woman' film. (The film deserves a complete post by itself.) A lot of tea later, and it was already Monday. That meant shopping for Hong Kong films on DVD, yam cha with a friend, then the pub quiz in the evening. Getting lightly inebriated and trying our best without the aid of electronic devices was a lot of fun I haven't had in a long time. It felt good.

Today - ah yes. I found a couple of books I wanted in the Hong Kong Book Centre in Central - nice to know the place is still there. They had exactly 1 book on Cantonese; everything else now is Mandarin and it's infuriating. However, a couple of other books purchased and I was happy. I rode the tram in and out of Central (one day I'll get on at Sheung Wan and just go all the way down to Shau Kei Wan - just because I can) and thought about watching an HK movie in an HK theatre.

A quick look at the run-down for all cinemas on the island - and for Kowloon - yielded just 1 HK film on release right now. That's right - 1. Do you remember the days when 1 or 2 would come out every week? I do. It seems in the 3.5 years I've been away, the HK film industry has downsized roughly 90%. How and why has this happened? A lot to do with actors' contracts and how money now comes from the mainland. Off they go and make mainland movies in Mandarin, leaving the HK film scene pretty desolate.

I'm not happy about this turn of events. How it's come about I have no idea - except for the clues left by US films that have opened worldwide recently. I'm talking about Ghost in the Shell (2017), xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), Allied (2016), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), and of course Star Trek Beyond (2016).

These films have been backed by giants Huahua Media and some others by the Shanghai Film Group, as well as a handful of American production companies as usual. China currently has a restriction on foreign movies; they can only make up 25% of the market in the mainland. (This may increase to 40% in 2017.) Being backed by powerhouses such as Huahua Media, and a few small adjustments to where some of the scenes are shot or processed, means that movies are no longer subject to this mainland restriction. Hong Kong has no such restriction; they can and do show as many non-HK films as they want, when they want.

The wider implications of this are interesting; if you can now show more US movies in the mainland anyway, and the spread of mainland money and production companies into America means that more movies are free of any restrictions on top of this, doesn't that mean that mainland audiences will be witness to a lot more foreign movies? (Probably heavily censored of course, as in the case of Chow Yun Fat being mostly removed from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, for making it look like 'Chinese' people can be the bad guys if they want.)

Doesn't this also mean that China's film industry may slow down, due to their production companies bank-rolling foreign films, but also finding less of a need to keep blockbusters in the theatres?

So why filtch all the talent from Hong Kong to make mainland movies? Is it the agents' faults, sending their stars over the border, or is it in contracts with studio bosses, or is it just that the films over there are better paid?

Whatever the reason, Hong Kong films are on the decline, just a decade after Infernal Affairs single-handedly saved the local market and paved the way for recent hits such as Cold War 1 and 2 (and where's my part 3, anyway?).

This means that, for me on holiday in HK, I have 1 film to watch, and even that is on limited release because it's nearly at the end of its window. Films don't hang about here - they're changed pretty quickly. Whether or not this is to keep people's attention, or just a case of HK having a population of 7 million and everyone who's going to watch it has done so in the first 2 weeks anyway, is debatable.

I was really hoping for a few HK movies before I have to fly home, but it doesn't look like there are any to be found. I will keep searching, but it's not looking good.

In other news, we have dinner tonight and then I have more sourcing and shopping to do tomorrow before we go to Happy Valley to see the races. Believe it or not, although I lived in HK for 11 years I've only ever been to the races once before, and that was at Sha Tin.

So while I get in all the food and the film shopping and a few work books to keep my Cantonese from being completely forgotten, I'll keep any eye on the cinema here just in case something open Thursday night I can see.

That's pretty much all the news that's fit to print. See - I told you I'd try to blog more.

Soopy-twist, everyone, at least for now.

Going to the pictures (II)

A while ago I started documenting all the films I’d been to see courtesy of my Cineworld card. While life has got in the way a few times, there are a few more films I need to add to the list. Without further ado:

Get Out (23rd March 2017)

This could have gone a little harder, been a little harsher with the racist angle, as I felt it wasn’t as cutting as it could have been. There was an odd feeling to the film, as if some parts didn’t quite gel with the others. However, good ending and the cast were all excellent. Daniel Kaluuya was perfect - and a special shout-out should go to LilRel Howery for just being ace.

Verdict: 8/10; would recommend if you’re sick of mainstream ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’.

Life (30th March 2017)

The ISS, first contact with extra-terrestrial life, and a truly international team of astronauts trying to stop it from spreading to Earth below. What more could you want? Exciting, tense, and its own brand of That Moment When that had half the audience in either complete suspense or on the verge of choking on popcorn. Good ending - wait for the after credits scene!

Verdict: 9/10; would definitely recommend.

Going In Style (11th April 2017)

Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, and Morgan Freeman - and a host of brilliant supporting cast members, not least of all Matt Dillon (who looks more and more like a young Bruce Campbell the older he gets). Good fun and a witty, moving film all-round.

Verdict: 9/10; would definitely recommend.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (1st May 2017)

The big one we were all waiting for - and we weren’t disappointed. Well, mostly. Apart from not showing everything that they used in the myriad of trailers they put out, it was as expected; family, friends, pulling together, some mystery, some not-so-unexpected plot twists, and a lot of fun and then tears at bedtime after the fact. All in all, another excellent Marvel comedy-action romp. And the best part? It’s still a space opera. Is it better than the first one? No. It is any less fun? No.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend.

Sleepless (2nd May 2017)

An ironic name for a film that threatened to test my ability to keep focused on the plodding-along of things. The only twist was who you believed and why - and that wasn’t much of a stretch, either. A pity really, as the cast were really trying. However, I think it was kind of sabotaged by the writer(s) / The Powers That Be making it a bit of an uncaring mess.

Verdict: 5/10; would recommend if insomnia strikes or logic is unimportant.

Their Finest (3rd May 2017)

A war film about people making a war film - that has to be ‘authentic and optimistic’. Gemma Arterton was excellent, Bill Nighy was sublime as always, and the film was a very clever use of time and place. Definitely not a mid-week action/adventure blockbuster, this is a subtle slow-burn that you think is just funny until you realise how far you’ve drifted out beyond your emotional depth.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend as an ‘authentic, optimistic’ film.

Alien: Covenant (15th May 2017)

Depending on why you’re watching this, it’s a few things to a few people. It answers questions directly raised by both Alien (1979) and Prometheus (2012). Generally, I liked the idea and the film itself. However, the twist I was waiting for didn’t appear and I was a little disappointed that it ended in such a predictable way. I was also a little perturbed by the entire Ripley / predominantly female angle being stolen from me as an audience member. The fact that they’d shifted the focus of the film, and possibly the franchise itself, to a male character, only struck me the next day. I was not happy about this. But make of that what you will.

Verdict: 8.5/10 for the film itself, but 5/10 for what it stole from me.

Baywatch (25th May 2017)

Is it me, or should you have a limit on the number of ‘fuck’s used in a 15 certificate film? Once upon a time, it was one. This film had no onscreen blood or gore, but it did have a dude with his tackle out centre-screen for a 2-3 minute joke. It also racked up over 20 ‘fucks’. Seriously, that’s when I stopped counting.

Apart from that, it was a fun romp that admired its leading men as much as it admired its female leads. A few jokes were a little silly, but seeing as it kept the role of Mitch actually quite serious and intent on his job (but cracking jokes to make points about doing the job properly), this can be forgiven. Dwayne Johnson continues to impress with his timing as a straight man to the co-star’s buffoonery. I have to say, this is my first Zac Efron film, but he was solid as the scallywag with an eventual heart of gold. I was a little put out when the plot called for the highest-ranking female to be swept aside, but it was explained why this happened and in fact this ended up to be defamatory toward Efron’s character. Whether this makes it ok or not is still a debate.

Good fun, some excellent one-liners and some worthy comic moments. Action, ‘heart’, and a brilliant almost-Bond villain in Priyanka Chopra. We need more of her in films, please.

Verdict: 8/10; would recommend.

And that’s pretty much it. We’ve got the new Pirates film tomorrow, but then I’m off to Hong Kong at the end of this week (where I’ll finally get to see Wonder Woman and see if it lives up to the hype.

Soopy-twist, everyone.

Catching Up

It’s May 2017 and I’ve done nothing this year so far.

Ok, that was a lie. I’ve actually been to two conventions, one hen weekend, and survived a redundancy cull at work.

Where do I start?

My youngest sister decided a while ago that, due to me turning 40 and the world being A Bit Shit, we needed a really really good con. So she signed us up for the first ever Official Star Trek Cruise. Our Captain was thee Captain, William Shatner. We had so many guests and things to do it was crazy - and we went from Miami (Fee shouts MOYAMI!) to Nassau to Cozumel along the way. We saw shows onboard, we saw talks by ST heroes and some very good nights were had at pretty much all the bars on the ship (tip: buy the drinks package), we spoke to real-life astronauts, real-life physicists, and just had a blast. I wore uniform for a few of the days we were on the ship - the Starfleet uniform I had made for Dragon*Con 2016. We saw make-up artists prepping people for their weekend, people in everything from Gorn heads to full ST VI Admiral’s gear, heard all the message and ringtones in the universe and participated in a few quizzes. We met a UN Ambassador - not bad for someone who started out as a Dabo girl - and picked up a few new friends along the way.

It was epic, and the weather and change of scene and just the whole fandom feeling was comforting and relaxing, compared to the real world where Trump had just been elected President and countries were experiencing unrest and turmoil on a bleakly huge scale. While Norwegian Cruise Lines weren’t the best at organising people getting off the boat (seriously; 3 hours queueing through the entire ship, down one level then through the entire ship again was ridiculous, seeing as Royal Caribbean had the whole thing done in under 45 minutes - with more passengers), and the dining opportunities didn’t really blow our socks off, the event itself went well and we had a bloody good time.

So that was January. I recovered from the fun and excitement of the cruise and went back to work. Time passed, as it so often does, until it was the end of April and my youngest sister’s hen do. This was a short cruise from Southampton to Bruges to Le Harve and back. We got dressed up as Pink Ladies to attend the Grease show, we drank as much as we could and we went ashore to see Bruges (amazing place; would recommend), and seeing as we were diverted to Rotterdam due to the port pilots’ strike at La Harve, we even got to stroll around Rotterdam in the early sun and see the cube-houses arranged on their points like it was nothing. Selfie-sticks were used, souvenir books were signed and drawn in, and it was as memorable as it could be.

Then just two weeks later, my oldest sister, my cousin and I went to the sunny seaside spectacular that is Blackpool. We were attending Rogue Events’ Asylum 16 - the unofficial Supernatural convention. With three episodes left to go from season twelve, there was a mixture of people who did and didn’t want to be spoiled by the guests from the show - but it hardly mattered. They packed in 14 guests a day; Saturday we saw the entire roster, and then Sunday we got to see them again for fresh questions, but in a different order. We didn’t need autographs or photos with the stars, so we saw everything for two days. However, I understand people were unhappy with their autos and photos, as they apparently either clashed with each other or the meet’n greets that were part of their ticket package. All I can say is, between talks I spent fifteen minutes on social media trying to get answers as to where the ‘discos’ were each night. Didn’t find them, assumed they were in the main hall, but then decided we’d rather get on a Blackpool tram and head into the party capital of the beach instead. We went back to several haunts, had some absolutely cracking fish and chips (well, the other two did - I don’t like fish so PROPER STEAK AND KIDNEY PIES ALL ROUND! YESS!), and strolled along the beach. Stunning sunshine the whole time we were there - it wasn’t until we started driving back and we hit The Sarf that it started raining.

As good as it was seeing all the guests and eating and drinking our way round Blackpool front, I believe that was my last Rogue Events convention. There was no organisation and no communication, and although I like to think of myself as a pretty easy-going person, I was getting irate at the lack of information that could so easily have been shared in so many accessible places, both on and off social media (or even their own bloody website).

I’m off to Hong Kong next week - not to live there (again), but for a holiday. I’ve got friends to catch up with and fun to have and I need to prove to myself that I could never work there again and to get over it. Closure, I suppose. Hong Kong, it’s language, culture, and people will always be a part of me now - there’s no getting away from that - but I wouldn’t want to. A part of me, yes. But perhaps by the time I get back and re-assess my life, the thought of it will no longer be a dominant part. Still, the thrill of the idea of being there again hits me at nine at night when I’m checking I have stuff to wear when I get back to the proper heat, at six in the morning when I wake up for work knowing I’ve got to pack 7 days’ work into 3 days at work before I fly, when I set a reminder on my phone for me to check in online. Going through a list of things I’ll need, and realising I won’t need a coat, or a jacket, or in fact anything more than a thin cardie; not needing a power transformer / plug for my smart devices; looking through old shipping receipts and relocation stuff for my Octopus card and then realising I left with my flatmate before I came back to England; finding my old HK ID card and realising it’s not valid any more; opening an old wallet to check for said ID card and finding HK$40 in it… All these things make me happy. I cannot wait to get back to HK and see how much it’s changed - and hopefully, how “it’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. I need to close off that part of my life - some part of my brain never left, never accepted that I didn’t live there and that being in the UK wasn’t just a break but a ‘permanent’ thing.

I think that’s all the news that’s fit to print. I’ll be back at some point - I really have to blog more often. Back in the day it was once a week. Now it’s barely once every quarter. But hey-ho.

Soopy-twist, everyone.

Why the long face?

I can’t write anything. I don’t care enough. I’ve become more and more anhedonic over the past few months. I’ve tried to do things I should enjoy but they just leave me cold.

I’m not writing. Fiction, I mean. I have one high-concept novel and one killer sci-fi epic on pause. I just can’t make anything happen.

I’m lonely. There, I said it. It’d be nice to actually date someone, but I hate people and no-one would pick me out of a pair, much less a crowd.

And so it goes.

Going to the pictures (I)

Before Christmas last year, the Empire cinema near me was sold to Cineworld. It took them a week or so but they rebranded and sorted themselves out pretty fast. I told myself I’d get one of their Unlimited cards - you pay a direct debit amount every month, which enables you to watch as many films as you want, provided you have a ticket for each one. To someone anticipating the summer period, this was a no-brainer.

I waited until something came out that I wanted to see, and then I purchased said membership. Since then we’ve seen quite a few films, and apart from simply sticking the cinema tickers in my TARDIS, I feel like I’ve ignored what I have seen. Considering I’ve been feeling starved of inspiration of late, this Will Not Stand.

I’ve decided to try to keep up with the films we watch, more for my own ‘look-out for the blu ray’ list than anything else. So here we go: a spoiler-free recap of the films I’ve seen through my Cineworld Unlimited Membership (Odeon also does one of these, but there isn’t an Odeon close enough to me).

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (19th Dec 2016)

I think everyone knew what was going to happen before they entered the cinema, but for those new to Star Wars in general it was a pretty good intro to the universe. Nothing could have been worse than the prequels of 1999 - 2005, and we had just had a decent rehash of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. But how good was this spin-off going to be?

The entire film had a wonderful Star Wars IV feel to it; we had British Baddies and Darth Vader trying to stop multicultural rebels. The British Baddies even had the same 1977 porn-taches and hair-dos. It segued well into the events of Star Wars IV, even including a few nods to original characters and events surrounding the spin-off people. As the inevitable happened one by one, the impact was really felt. I think I was more upset about losses in this film than in Star Wars VII.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend.

Passengers (29th Dec 2016)

Being suckered into this film was my fault; I barely saw the entire trailer before yelling ‘YOU HAD ME AT COOL SPACESHIP’ and putting a reminder in my phone to book tickets. Chris Pratt is a competent, fun actor, and Jennifer Lawrence is always a good bet. So as the movie dragged on - mostly ignoring the cool ship in favour of boring the pants off everyone with a tepid love story that borders on the creepy side (not in a good horror movie way), I realised I should have done more homework. They could have cut 45 minutes out of the middle and nothing would have been affected, other than we might have missed the robot bartender, who is in every way epic.

Verdict: 3/10 (and that was for the ship design and the robot bartender); would not recommend.

Assassin’s Creed (5th Jan 2017)

Michael Fassbender in a video game adaption (but not the version with Matt Ryan in it)? Why not. He’s always good and after Passengers, I really didn’t care where the good times came from.

Good cinematography, good storyline, some great characters (Marion Cotillard is brilliant), and most of all, some good fusion of game-play action and modern-day Reasons For Plot. If the last scene isn’t a sequel set-up then I’m shocked.

Verdict: 8.5/10; would recommend.

Hidden Figures (special members-only screening, 6th Feb 2017)

Actresses: wonderful. Story of them powering the math and engineering behind getting John Glenn into orbit and safely back again: brilliant. It could have delved deeper into the racism side of things for me, but otherwise this was a good tale told well.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend.

The Lego Batman Movie (12th Feb 2017)

Yes, I’m 40 years old. No, I do not have any children, nor did I watch this film with any. But it was damn good fun. There were some kiddie moments - there had to be, after all - but the sophistication of some of the humour, and how self-aware the film was, overcome all of that. The voices were well-cast and the humour for me was spot-on. Also gave my fellow watchers and I a phrase for the next few weeks: I don’t wanna DO that.

Verdict: 9.10; would recommend.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (14th Feb 2017)

Had a bad day? Want to see a metric shit-tonne of Deserving Bad People get shot, sliced up, stabbed (with a pencil), punched, broken and pretty much fucked-up in short order? Then look no further. I think this movie is better than the first one, but your mileage may vary where puppies, cars, houses, wives and Lovejoys are concerned. This film may actually push Hard Boiled off the top spot of my go-to list of films that sometimes I just need to see to make me feel better about People In General being arseholes.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend.

The Great Wall (23rd Feb, 2017)

Matt Damon is let out of the house by himself AGAIN and this time gets kinda lost in China. He encounters the Great Wall itself and along with his mate, sets about working out how to rob the inhabitants of all their stuff. However, as they’re desperately trying to fight off monsters with all the best tricks they’ve learnt over the last 2 waves of evil beasts, instead he has to decide how much he wants to live to steal shit another day. Great casting (Andy Lau! Eddie Peng! Tian Jing!), good effects, a pretty decent plot and more action than even Yuen Wu-Ping could shake a sword at, this was in turns amusing, grave, entertaining and satisfying.

Verdict: 9.10; would recommend.

Logan (2nd March 2017)

Billed as basically the last time Hugh Jackman would reprise the role of Wolverine, this movie caused mixed feelings before I even went in; I knew roughly what the outcome would be, but I was also very interested in how it would leave mutants in general. I think Jackman did Logan proud: a fine performance, some great set pieces as well as some trademark Wolverine humour in just a few places - this could have been absurdly depressing, but somehow it wasn’t. Everyone else in it was a treat to watch, and the ending left me with hope. It was a good ending to a lot of things, but as one door closes, so another opens, as they say.

You may want to note: in the UK there was no Deadpool teaser, or short, and no after-credits scene.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend.

Kong: Skull Island (9th March 2017)

Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and scene-stealing John C Reilly - some excellent shots of creatures, better than what was promised in the trailer, as well as a truly man-eating island of weird shit and weirder escape plans. The cast was great, the CGI was impressive, the story a good one and I for one had a tonne of fun watching this.

You may want to note: the after-credits scene is clever and very welcome.

Verdict: 9.5/10; would DEFINITELY recommend.

Free Fire (special members-only screening, 15th March 2017)

The names in this are a treat in themselves: Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley. You have American, South African, Irish and everything in between in an arms deal trying to go down in a dockside warehouse in Boston, 1978. Witty, amusing, in-your-face language, bodily damage and death - fun for all the family. A little slow in places, it did however keep things interesting until the very last scene. My only gripe is that you became too attached to certain characters. Ah well.

Verdict: 7.5/10; would recommend.

And that’s it for now - hopefully I’ll stay more up to date with these reviews from now on. I can’t wait until summer, when we have to see 2 films a week just to keep up. Good times.

Peach and lube, people - peach and lube.